Her mom and sister were heavily involved in competitive swimming, while her dad was busy working at the popular Alligator Farm. Nicole took the best out of the two and turned it into something producers around Georgia are all interested in — animals willing and able to be on the big (or small) screen.
Early in her professional career, Nicole began a non-profit job to rehabilitate orphaned and injured wildlife animals. She found herself rescuing alligators and large snakes, as well as training non-releasable wild animals. Always looking for ways to make herself in high demand, Nicole took on a new task that would bring her to another level: Water safety. She couldn’t have done it without Daniel Ray, AKA Diver Dan, head of Water Safety Professionals. With those skills, Nicole has continued to make the sets safer for people and animals alike.
“You have to know the signs that each animal gives and you have to know how to get the best behavior out of each of them,” Nicole says.
Nicole’s entry into Georgia’s film industry came when she was approached about using one of her animals in a role for a small film. She trained and brought the deer to the set and everything just started to click. The person who approached Nicole for her first gig was Renee DeRossett, now a partner of Nicole’s in Savannah. They have been working well with animals — and each other — for well over a decade now, and together manage Animals On Set.
But keeping any business up and running can be a challenge.
There’s maintaining a 50-acre farm in Covington, three growing girls, and close to 150 animals, it can be stressful and expensive. When Nicole became a single mother, finances started to be an issue. That was not going hold her back. Nicole came up with ways to keep the operation alive. She began allowing families to sponsor and adopt animals while also having educational programs and petting zoos on the farm.
Today, that income is supplemented by Georgia’s film industry.
Animal training is only a piece of the skill set Nicole brings to each job. Before they even arrive on set, she has already read the script and chosen the animal that perfectly matches the personality of the role. Nicole takes a few weeks before filming to imitate situations like feeding an animal in the same conditions that exist on a film set so the animals know what to expect when they arrive.
When going on set, Nicole makes sure they have something to make them feel at home. It could be a stuffed fox to keep Roscoe the St. Bernard entertained during a break or black-out curtains to help him catch a quick snooze.
Nicole has worked on films like Who gets the Dog and Birth of a Nation; TV shows such as Vampire Diaries and Constantine; commercials for AFLAC; and music videos for rapper Rick Ross.
All animals, from roaches and raccoons to ducks and deer, can make it onto the big screen with a little help from Nicole and her team at Animals On Set. Whether it’s an exotic animal, a domestic pet, or even a local native species, Nicole can train them to do amazing things. Still shots, creative wildlife parties or big motion pictures, her team can do it all.
“The film industry allows me not only to continue to rescue animals, plus it supports my family,” Nicole says. “I get to do what I love.”